County opts out of governor's order

John Richmeier

Commissioners encourage people to voluntarily wear masks

People in Leavenworth County will not be required to follow the governor's executive order that mandates people wear masks in public spaces.

That is because Leavenworth County commissioners approved their own order that encourages people to wear masks in the public but does not make it mandatory.

A law passed last month during a special session of the Kansas Legislature allows the commissioners to issue a health order with provisions that are less stringent than a statewide executive order from the governor.

Gov. Laura Kelly signed her executive order Thursday. The order goes into effect Friday.

Kelly issued the order in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Commissioners met late Thursday afternoon to discuss the order. During the meeting, they consulted with Leavenworth County Health Officer Jamie Miller.

Miller said he consulted with the Leavenworth County Health Department's medical director, Dr. Kathleen McBratney.

Miller said he and McBratney support usage of masks but not a requirement for wearing them.

Miller said Leavenworth County Health Department officials are seeking voluntary compliance from people in the community.

"We are still hoping that people understand that a mask is a good device and mitigation tool," he said.

Miller said there also was a question about who would enforce the mandate from the governor's order in Leavenworth County.

He said the Health Department can provide education about masks such as the science behind them and best practices. But he said the department cannot take on phone calls regarding compliance issues.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz, who participated in the meeting by telephone, encouraged people to voluntarily wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"This isn't a political issue," she said. "This is science."

She also expressed thanks to people who already have elected to wear masks.

Commissioner Mike Stieben, who also participated by telephone, argued Kelly had not laid the groundwork to prepare people for the order. He argued that issuing the order such a short time before a holiday was unconscionable.

Despite his misgivings about the governor's order, Stieben encouraged people to wear masks.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson also encouraged people to voluntarily wear masks.

Commissioner Chad Schimke said people still can mandate themselves to wear masks and businesses can require people to wear masks.

He said there are many services now available that allow people to carry out tasks while avoiding physical contact with others.

Commissioners unanimously approved the county order that does not require people to wear masks.

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